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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View:Police shooting of protesters in Kabala is a shameful blight on their record

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

At least two youths were shot by police in Kabala on Tuesday after they protested the relocation of a proposed youth village in the town. When youths heard that the youth village, which would be financed by international aid money and would offer job training and an agricultural facility, would be relocated, they made plans to protest. But according to Awoko, they were told by police to submit this request 21 days ahead of time.
This attempt to prevent the youths from protesting backfired, with youth taking to the streets to express their disapproval. One photo of the protests shows a young man holding a cardboard sign reading “Is Koinadugu not part of Sierra Leone?”
Koinadugu is one of the poorest parts of the country, and clearly the youths felt the promises of development in the area, including the new youth center, were never to be fulfilled.
Police responded to this dissent with violence, firing tear gas and live ammunition on the peaceful protestors. Two youths were killed and several injured. Someone, it’s unclear who, set the local unit commander’s house ablaze. This has been confirmed, but other reports say three people were killed and four seriously injured, and more houses were burned down.
This incident is sad and infuriating on many levels. First is the attempt to prevent the youths from protesting. What are the odds that the letter of permission would ever have been approved? How else are we to read an order to wait three weeks but as a command to stay inside and shut up?
The police offered no evidence that they needed to constrict the protest for safety reasons  not that this is a good excuse anyway. There are ways to monitor protests in a safe manner.
Also, protests are sometimes about violating rules. Truly free protests are conducted on the terms of the people, unless there are very compelling safety concerns (which again, there weren’t). Protesting should be a right with a minimum of restrictions. And even when protesting is illegal, the response needs to be humanitarian.
This was not the response of the Sierra Leone police. The way they acted, firing on a peaceful crowd, is a permanent, shameful blight on their record. This is the type of response one would expect from a dictatorial regime, not a democracy. What were they thinking firing into the crowds? That the young people who had the audacity to protests deserved to die? Clearly they felt confident that they wouldn’t face major repercussions for their actions.
On Wednesday Amnesty International in Sierra Leone condemned the violent conduct of the police.
“We see the police force which we are expecting to be highly professional, at the slightest provocation using firearms,” Amnesty International Sierra Leone (AISL) Executive Director Solomon Sogbandi told Awoko on Wednesday. “They should resort to the use of firearms when it comes to very serious situations in which…the police life is threatened.”
This incident reminds me of two troubling world developments. The first is the epidemic of police killings in the United States. The immediate police response to any perceived danger seems to be a hail of bullets, instead of a last resort when all other measures have been exhausted. Video after video shows police shooting people who posed no danger to them or anyone else.
It also makes me think of one of the many authoritarian regimes around the world which respond to peaceful protestors with death: Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and so many more. These scenes should never play out on the streets of a democracy.
The families of the youths killed on Tuesday deserve justice and accountability  as does the rest of Sierra Leone, and every person in the world.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Friday August 19, 2016

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